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Articles and Advice from our Pet Expert

Breaking Your Pet of a Nasty Habit

sorryIt is a fact of pet ownership that even our most beloved furry friends can develop some nasty habits that try our patience. In my personal and professional conversations with pet lovers, I’ve discovered there are a few behaviors that stand out as the most worrisome and difficult to control. Ready? (Brace yourself).

The top three nasty habits among pets are as follows:

  1. Dogs eating poop or vomit
  2. Cats bringing dead critters into the house
  3. Dogs that “butt scootch” (that's what I call it, at least)

Dogs eating poop or vomit

Poop-eating actually has a scientific name – coprophagia – and is generally a natural behavior in dogs, but one that can be more than a little disgusting.

Dogs are hard-wired to explore any and all potential food resources in their environment and, to them, poop is just another taste sensation. This is especially true of puppies, as feces is very similar in texture to the regurgitated food they got from mom. While it can be tough to discourage dogs over one year old that have developed a poop-eating habit, most puppies will grow out of it.

Breeding female dogs also are naturally inclined to do their own “poop scooping," just as they would normally clean up after their pups in the den. And most dogs feel some urge to keep their territory clean, especially if they have been scolded for leaving a mess before. Eating poop can also be a way for canines to alleviate stress or garner attention from their owners.

Alternately, a poor quality diet or one that your dog is unable to digest easily might encourage him to give his poop a second round. In households where both dogs and cats are present, dogs may eat cat feces, which is even more nutritious than dog feces (gross, I know). This is because cat food is higher in protein than dog food and cats are less efficient at digesting their food than dogs.

While there are some cases when coprophagia indicates a greater health problem, such as pancreatic insufficiency or nutrient deficiencies, its biggest consequence is that we humans find it revolting. Many owners worry their dog will contract infectious diseases from eating their own poop or that of their peers, but most healthy, vaccinated dogs are at low risk for picking up illnesses this way. Snacking indiscriminately on neighborhood poop will increase a dog’s chances of picking up worms, but a standard preventative treatment program will keep this from affecting his health. Fecal screening for intestinal parasites should be done twice a year at your vet’s office, and making sure your dog takes heartworm medication can help prevent some types of intestinal worms.

If your dog tends to eat cat poop, a valid concern is that he might end up swallowing a side of kitty litter, which is harmful in large quantities, especially if the absorbent (clumping) litter expands in his gut. A dog with a belly full of kitty litter can become severely ill and might end up with vomiting or diarrhea. Plus, the consumed litter can be difficult to remove as it scatters throughout the digestive tract.

So how do you prevent corophagia? Above all, remember that when your dog snacks on poop, he is behaving naturally. To him, his habit is rewarding, and delicious. So, removing his temptation and rewarding him for preferred behaviors will always be your best training tools. Scoop your yard frequently, keep Fido on a short leash in that poop-riddled park and put the cat’s litter box out of reach. A covered cat box might be all that is needed if your dog is much larger than your cat.

Quite often, putting Fido on a high protein, low carbohydrate and low fat diet also will do the trick. Pet stores sell pet food additives that claim to make poop less palatable, but many owners find that a teaspoon of canned spinach, pineapple or a little meat tenderizer works equally well.

Never scold your dog for eating poop, as even negative attention can be seen as a reward. And if stress is the reason for your dog’s new habit, hopefully an end to the stress will result in an end to the habit.

Cats bringing you their dead critters

Since hunting is a cat's natural instinct, your kitty sees nothing wrong in bringing his prey indoors and proudly presenting it to you as a sign of love or a gift to show he is protecting your home and his own territory.

The best way to curtail this habit is to keep your cat indoors at times when rodents and birds are most susceptible – at dawn and dusk. It also is possible to train your cat against this habit by disposing of his gift immediately and indicating your disapproval through your tone of voice. Make eye contact with kitty while you are disposing of his prey, and then immediately walk away from him. The more you repeat this behavior, the stronger the message will be to your cat that you don't want his gifts. It's not perfect training, and it requires limitless patience, but you may find that in time kitty will start keeping his prey to himself!

If your cat wears a collar, you can try attaching a small bell. While this won't stop kitty’s hunting instinct, it may warn prey of his approach and squelch his hunting endeavors. And if any of kitty’s gross little gifts leave a stain on your carpet or rugs, BISSELL’s Pet Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner is great for a quick clean-up.

The Butt Scootch

When Fido drops his haunches and scoots his bottom across the floor in front of company, or even in private, it can be very embarrassing for his owner. While this behavior is sometimes a sign of worms (which you should contact your vet to diagnose and treat), it may very well be a hint that Fido’s anal sacks need to be expressed. A dog’s anal sacks, which are located at the base of the tail around the anus, get itchy and inflamed when they are full.

Although gross, this is probably the easiest of the nasty pet habits to break. Most groomers and veterinarians can take care of expressing Fido’s anal sacks, and you can use BISSELL’s Enzyme Action Pet Stain & Odor Remover for cleaning up after a scootching. The enzyme formula is perfect for eliminating stains and odors caused by feces or urine.

Kristen Buck60x60

Written by:
Kristen Levine

May 6, 2010

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